The government has launched a new national construction regulator to ensure safe building materials are used in new homes following “deeply disturbing allegations of malpractice” by some construction product manufacturers at the Grenfell Inquiry
The new construction regulator will have the power to carry out its own product testing and will be able to remove any product from the market if it presents a significant safety risk. It will also have the power to prosecute any companies that flout product safety rules.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said testimony the inquiry had shone a light on dishonest practices, including deliberate attempts to game the system and rig the results of safety tests.
The government has also commissioned an independent review to examine weakness in previous testing regimes for construction products and to recommend how to tackle abuse of the system. It will publish recommendations later this year.
The Grenfell Inquiry heard from Adrian Williamson QC, counsel for the bereaved and survivors, that the evidence had revealed “an industry in which Arconic, Celotex and Kingspan were content to push hazardous products into the marketplace and sought to market them dishonestly”.
The inquiry was told that Kingspan had been warned in 2007 that tests of its foam insulation had caused a “raging inferno”. In 2009, Arconic, the firm that made the plastic cladding panels, had been shown images of a burning tower with similar panels to show “how dangerous PE can be when it comes to architecture”. Celotex executives had known in 2013 that its insulation would burn in the event of a fire.
Celotex has said it is not a manufacturer’s responsibility to meet Building Regulations but admitted there was “unacceptable conduct on the part of a number of former employees”. Arconic told the inquiry that its product had been “misused” and it was entitled to expect the regulatory system to maintain safety.
Kingspan apologised for “process shortcomings and unacceptable conduct” after the inquiry heard that one of its executives had written in an email that contractors and consultants concerned about the safety of its products could “go fuck themselves”.
Robert Jenrick said: “The Grenfell Inquiry has heard deeply disturbing allegations of malpractice by some construction product manufacturers and their employees, and of the weaknesses of the present product testing regime.
“We are establishing a national regulator to address these concerns and a review into testing to ensure our national approach is fit for purpose. We will continue to listen to the evidence emerging in the inquiry and await the judge’s ultimate recommendation – but it is already clear that action is required now and that is what we are doing.”
Dame Judith Hackitt, chair, Independent Review of Building Regulations & Fire Safety:
This is another really important step in delivering the new regulatory system for building safety. The evidence of poor practice and lack of enforcement in the past has been laid bare. As the industry itself starts to address its shortcomings I see a real opportunity to make great progress in conjunction with the national construction regulator.
Peter Caplehorn, chief executive, Construction Products Association:
We welcome the government’s announcement establishing a new national regulator for construction products. We have worked closely with the Minister of Housing, Communities & Local Government to progress the reforms to culture and practices outlined in Dame Judith Hackitt’s Review.
This marks an important milestone in those reforms and we look forward to supporting the work of the regulator and Office for Product Safety & Standards to develop how this will be put in place in the coming months.
Katherine Metcalfe, legal director, Pinsent Masons:
In her final report, Dame Judith Hackitt recognised that it would be crucial to improve our systems for regulating the safety of construction products if people are to be safe, and feel safe, in their homes. When the Building Safety Bill was published for pre-legislative scrutiny last year, the content on this topic was disappointing.
The bill contains powers to allow the government to introduce new construction product regulations, but there was very little detail on how the government intended to use those powers, and the intention appeared to be that new powers would be granted to local authority trading standards.
A new, centralised, regulator with a nationwide overview of the use of construction products is to be welcomed. Recent developments at the Grenfell Inquiry have undoubtedly caused the government to accelerate its plans.
It will be set up as a “shadow regulator” until such time as legislation to create it is enacted. It will take time to get up and running. The Construction Products Regulator must become a regulator with teeth if it is to contribute to cultural change in construction. For too long, the standards for safety performance, quality, suitability and compatibility of safety critical products has been complex and opaque. Everyone involved in designing and constructing buildings should welcome greater clarity around testing and certification.
The UK Cladding Action Group, which represents residents living in buildings with combustible cladding:
While this announcement may help new blocks, the clear and present danger that millions of innocent victims of the building safety crisis are facing right now has been given little importance by Robert Jenrick and [Chancellor] Rishi Sunak.
Grenfell United, a group made up of survivors and bereaved families from Grenfell Tower:
A new construction regulator doesn’t fix what’s out there already. It’s been three-and-a-half years and the government still hasn’t come up with a plan to get dangerous materials off homes.
Kingspan, Celotex and Arconic have faced no consequences – they are still making profits and getting government contracts and grants. Consequences for companies involved in Grenfell would be the best way for the government to send a message it was serious about cracking down. This is not an industry that deserves a clean slate.
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